Seth and Sutton Sharp
October 13, 2019
The name “Earnhardt” has become synonymous with the words “Restrictor Plate Racing”, thanks to the unmatched success of both Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. As dominant as the two were at Daytona and Talladega, other drivers and teams also showed their hand at these tracks, one of the strongest being Morgan-McClure Motorsports.
For a stretch between 1991 and 1996, the No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet and the No. 4 Kodak Film Chevrolet combined to win 13 of the 24 restrictor plate races held.
The No. 4 Chevrolet from Morgan McClure Motorsports was normally found near the front of the pack at Daytona and Talladega, especially between the time period of 1991 and 1996. During that time, their cars driven at the time by Ernie Irvan and Sterling Marlin, notched at least one win a season at a restrictor plate track. Four of the six years saw the team end up in Victory Lane twice.
Restrictor plates were implemented in 1988 after Bobby Allison crashed into the catch fence at Talladega.
Rick Wilson, who drove the No. 4 car from 1986-1989, showed signs of success at Daytona and Talladega, notching three top-10 finishes at Daytona. Wilson finished second in the 1988 Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona, losing out to Bill Elliott by inches.
Wilson picked up three more top-10s, including two top-fives over eight starts at Talladega.
The hot stretch for the team really started in 1991, when Ernie Irvan won the Daytona 500. The team struggled at Talladega, finishing 32nd and 33rd, but finished 5th in the Pepsi 400.
1992 kicked off what was their hottest set of races for the team. After the team returned to Daytona as the defending Daytona 500 champions, they struggled and finished 28th. They recovered from that to finish fifth at Talladega, before winning again at Daytona and then Talladega.
Irvan continued the team’s success in 1993 by finishing seventh in the season opening Daytona 500. He picked up another win at Talladega, won at Daytona.
Irvan was white hot at restrictor plate tracks, as his win at Daytona marked the third time in five races that he took the checkered flag.
Tragedy struck the NASCAR world after Davey Allison, driver of the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford, passed away after a helicopter crash at Talladega. NASCAR returned to the track less than two weeks later, with the emotions running high.
Allison’s widow Liz and her children were at the track and spoke to the fans before the race. Davey’s Uncle Donnie took a memorial parade lap around the track in Davey’s No. 28 car.
Neil Bonnett, a close family friend of the Allison’s, made his return to racing after sitting out almost three years due to injuries suffered in a crash. During the race, his car went airborne, ending his day early.
Jimmy Horton’s No. 32 car flew over the fence and down a hill and in the same accident, Stanley Smith suffered severe head injuries.
The intense final laps of the emotional weekend came to a close when Dale Earnhardt edged Irvan at the line by inches to win the race. Nobody knew at the time that all of this would quickly change the future landscape of Morgan-McClure Motorsports.
Over the next few weeks, rumors spread that Irvan was a candidate, if not the top candidate, to replace Allison in the vacant No. 28 Ford for Robert Yates. It was eventually announced that Irvan would take over the car before the 1993 Winston Cup season was even over.
After the team had Jimmy Hensley, Joe Nemechek and Jeff Purvis finish out the season, they named Sterling Marlin the newest driver of the No. 4 Kodak Film Chevrolet.
Marlin, the second-generation driver who made his Winston Cup debut in 1976, had eight full seasons under his belt, but had yet to win a race.
The new combination of the restrictor plate powerhouse Morgan-McClure Motorsports and Marlin turned out to be a match made in heaven, as Marlin won his first race with the team, the Daytona 500. He finished 39th at Talladega, but came back to Daytona strong finishing second. His next trip to Talladega he sat on the pole and ended the race in Victory Lane.
Marlin’s chances for a third straight Daytona 500 victory went up in smoke in 1996. He started third, led three laps but engine issues ended his day early and relegated the team to a 40th place finish. He won once again at Talladega and capped it off with another win at Daytona.
Marlin was in contention for the win at Talladega in July until he was involved in a scary accident with Dale Earnhardt. He finished 29th.
Marlin won four of his first 12 restrictor plate races with the team, picked up seven top-fives and eight top-10s.
The team’s success slowly wore off at the tracks. Marlin finished fifth and third at Daytona in 1997 but 39th and 38th at Daytona.
Marlin left the team in 1998, giving way to Bobby Hamilton, who had a best finish of 8th over 12 restrictor plate races with the team.
Counting the races that Hamilton drove for the team after Marlin left, the team made 35 starts at the tracks. Hamilton had an eighth and a ninth place finish, while Mike Wallace finished eighth for the team in 2005, in what turned out to be its final start at Daytona.
Between 1991 and 1996, the team won five races at Daytona including three Daytona 500s. The team also won four races at Talladega. During that six season stretch, the No. 4 car led laps in 21 of the 24 races at restrictor plate tracks.
That six season span saw nine different teams send a car to Victory Lane at either Daytona or Talladega over 24 races.
Morgan-McClure Motorsports led the way with an incredible and unmatched nine wins. Earnhardt and his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had the next most victories with four. Robert Yates (3), Rick Hendrick (2) and Junior Johnson (2) rounded out the top-five in wins during that time frame.
Morgan McClure Motorsports (Irvan and Marlin) and Robert Yates Racing (Allison and Dale Jarrett) were the only teams to send multiple drivers to Victory Lane, Morgan McClure Motorsports being the only team to do it in the same car.
The team might have slowly faded away from Cup Series success, but their dominant impact on restrictor plate racing is something that will live on forever.